Wednesday, September 21, 2016

US Fed keeps interest rates unchanged; Zuckerberg and Chan aim to tackle all diseases; Learning and unlearning at Unilever

1 US Fed keeps interest rates on hold (Gulf News) The US Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged on Wednesday but strongly signaled it could still tighten monetary policy by the end of this year as the labor market improved further.

The Fed said US economic activity had picked up and job gains were “solid” in recent months. “The case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened,” the US central bank said. The Fed has held its target rate for overnight lending between banks in a range of 0.25 percent to 0.50 percent since December, when it raised borrowing costs for the first time in nearly a decade.

The Fed also projected a less aggressive rise in interest rates next year and in 2018, and cut its longer-run interest rate forecast to 2.9 percent from 3.0 percent. But in a sign of growing confidence, the Fed said the near-term risks for the economic outlook “appear roughly balanced.” That means 
policymakers think the economy is about as likely to outperform forecasts as to underperform them.

2 Zuckerberg & Chan aim to tackle all diseases (Leo Kelion on BBC) Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have pledged $3bn to fund medical research over the next decade. They said their ultimate goal was to "cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of the century".

The funds will be distributed by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which they created in December 2015. Tech leaders are increasingly turning their attention to health. Earlier in the week, Microsoft said it intended to "solve" cancer by using artificial intelligence tools.

Google's DeepMind unit is working with the NHS to find a way to use computers to more accurately diagnose diseases. And IBM and MIT announced a tie-up earlier this week to develop AI-based systems that could help clinicians improve the care of elderly and disabled patients.

Even so, the Chan Zuckerberg plan is marked by its ambition. Mr Zuckerberg said that at present 50 times more money was spent on treating people who are sick than on curing the diseases that would stop them getting ill in the first place, and added that this needed to change.

Ms Chan said they had already committed $600m to creating a new research centre called the Biohub, which will bring together engineers, computer scientists, biologists, chemists and other innovators.

The Biohub will initially work on two projects. The first is the Cell Atlas, a "map" that describes the different types of cells that control the body's major organs. The second is the Infectious Disease Initiative, which will try to develop new tests and vaccines to tackle HIV, Ebola, Zika and other new diseases. Mr Zuckerberg predicted that by 2100 the average life expectancy would be beyond 100 years.

Mr Zuckerberg and Ms Chan announced in December 2015 that they planned to give away 99% of their shares in Facebook to fund good causes following the birth of their daughter. The organisation's stated mission is to make long-term investments in work that advances human potential and promotes equality.

3 Learning and unlearning at Unilever (Chia Yan Min in Straits Times) Only "paranoid" companies prepared to innovate aggressively will survive in this era of disruptive technologies, Unilever global chief executive Paul Polman said.

The British-Dutch multinational consumer goods giant sells a vast array of food, personal care and other brands, such as Dove soap, Lipton tea and ice cream brands Ben & Jerry's and Wall's.

The digital revolution and the ubiquity of mobile devices have permeated every segment of the company's business, from manufacturing to marketing, said Mr Polman. He said Unilever was exploring new frontiers, such as predicting consumer behaviour with data analytics, making use of virtual reality in retail, and using robotics and sensors in its manufacturing facilities.

"We're growing nicely in South-east Asia, but in order to get that growth, we had to work twice as hard as we did five years ago. The trends are changing incredibly fast," he said. The company is looking to partner start-ups around the world to stay at the forefront of these changes. It launched The Foundry - a global platform to connect its brands with innovative start-ups - in May 2014.

There is need to develop a company culture where people are receptive to "learning and unlearning" - by no means an easy feat.

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